What is acute lymphoblastic leukemia?

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia is a disease where there are too many abnormal white blood cells in the bone marrow.


Common symptoms of acute lymphoblastic leukemia include:

  • anemia  (low red blood cell count)
  • bone and joint pain
  • easy bruising
  • fever
  • recurrent infections
  • pain in the abdomen
  • swollen lymph nodes
  • difficulty breathing


To diagnose acute lymphoblastic leukemia, your child’s doctor will do a complete physical examination and medical history. He or she may also order one or more of the following tests:

  • complete blood count (CBC)
  • bone marrow aspiration and biopsy
  • spinal tap/lumbar puncture
  • x-ray
  • chromosome analysis


Treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia depends on what type of acute lymphoblastic leukemia your child has, his or her age, and overall health. Treatment options may include:

  • Chemotherapy is a drug treatment to stop cancer cells from growing. This is usually the first treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
  • Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. Radiation is usually only used to treat acute lymphoblastic leukemia if the child has a high risk of relapse.
  • Stem cell transplant may be a treatment choice if the acute lymphoblastic leukemia has relapsed.

Learn more about Pediatric Hematology, Oncology and Stem Cell Transplant services at Boston Children’s Health Physicians.

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